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Explainer: How was the 'most prolific serial killer' in US history not convicted for over 40 years?

Little has been serving a life sentence for the murder of three women since 2014.

Some of the drawings by Samuel Little of his murder victims.
Some of the drawings by Samuel Little of his murder victims.
Image: FBI

A MAN WHO confessed to the murders of 93 women in the US has been labelled the most prolific serial killer in the country’s history, but how did he get away with it for so long?

Samuel Little claims to have murdered 93 people, mostly women, between 1970 and 2005. 

In 2014, the 79-year-old was jailed for life for the murder of three women with no possibility of parole. He has been in jail in Texas ever since. 

Why did it take more than 40 years for him to be caught and prosecuted?  

What did he do?

In November 2018, Little confessed to the murders of 90 people across the US, which has since increased to 93 people over a 35 year period. 

Federal crime analysts believe all of his confessions are credible and officials have been able to verify 50 of the confessions so far. Little says he strangled all of his victims. 

Many of his victims were originally deemed as having overdosed, died accidentally or died of undetermined causes. Some bodies have not yet been found. 

What is his history?

Little moved around a lot during his life and had his first run-in with the law in 1956. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said there are “clear signs of a dark, violent streak” among his charges for shoplifting, fraud, drugs, solicitation and breaking and entering.

Little had been charged with killing women in Mississippi and Florida in the 1980s, but escaped indictment in Mississippi and conviction in Florida.

He had previously served sentences for assaulting a woman in Missouri and assaulting and falsely imprisoning a woman in San Diego.

women Some of Little's drawings of the women he killed. Source: FBI

How did he not get caught sooner?

Little confessed to 90 murders in 2018 after already spending four years in prison for the murder of three women. 

The main reasons to explain the 44-year-gap between his first murder and his first murder prosecution are the fact that his victims were mainly marginalised black women, his killing methods were often undetectable and he travelled around the country a lot, never staying too long in one place. 

Little more often than not chose to kill marginalised and vulnerable black women, many of whom were involved in prostitution or were drug addicts. Some of his victims were male and some were white. 

His method of killing didn’t always leave obvious signs of homicide. He was a former competitive boxer, and as a result he was able to stun or knock out his victims with a powerful punch before strangling them, a method he used frequently. 

As this doesn’t leave any stab marks or bullet wounds, many of these deaths were attributed to other causes. 

DNA profiling wasn’t used as part of law enforcement in the 1970s and early 1980s. DNA analysis developed over time, but the FBI say that because many victims were prostitutes, this complicated the ability of police to gather telling physical evidence.

“For many years, Samuel Little believed he would not be caught because he thought no one was accounting for his victims,” FBI crime analyst Christie Palazzolo said on the FBI website. 

“Even though he is already in prison, the FBI believes it is important to seek justice for each victim – to close every case possible.”

The bodies of some of his alleged victims have not yet been found. Some victims have not yet been identified and a few of his confessions have not been corroborated by law enforcement yet. 

How was he caught?  

Little was arrested at a homeless shelter in Kentucky in 2012 before he was extradited to California facing drug charges. 

Once there, DNA evidence linked him to three cold cases which eventually lead to his murder conviction. All three women had been beaten and strangled and their bodies had been left in an alley, a skip and a garage.

When a background check was run on Little, the FBI found an “alarming” pattern and many links to other murders around the country.

The man asserted his innocence throughout the murder trial, even as many women testified about narrowly surviving similarly violent encounters over the years. 

The FBI said Little is now in poor health and will likely remain in the prison in Texas until his death. The organisation posted an extensive piece on their website on 6 October seeking assistance connecting victims to Little’s confessions.

The FBI also said Little’s recollection of dates and the exact clothing worn by victims is not always accurate, but potential links should not be dismissed by these factors. He has drawn pictures of many victims which may help with their identification.

With reporting by Press Association and  - © AFP 2019

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